ASU student receives youth leadership award named for famed civil rights activist

Honor pays tribute to the late Rep. John Lewis, who worked alongside MLK


Two people wearing face coverings standing on either side of a banner that reads "Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service."

Anusha Natarajan (right) stands with a display about the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service. Natarajan is the recipient of Arizona's 2022 John Lewis Award. Photo courtesy Anusha Natarajan

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An ASU student’s dedication to civil rights, social justice and civic engagement earned her the 2022 John Lewis Youth Leadership Award from the Office of the Arizona Secretary of State.

Anusha Natarajan received the honor from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in September.

Natarajan chairs Arizona State University’s Andrew Goodman Fellows, a group based at the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions that is dedicated to increasing civic engagement among college students.

In a statement, Hobbs said Natarajan is among many exemplary young people in the state who “prove that the next generation is committed to civil rights issues. It is inspiring to see how so many young people in Arizona are using their voice(s) to bring about change and improve the communities around them.”

Natarajan is working to earn four bachelor’s degrees by May 2023. She expects to receive three Bachelor of Science degrees, one each in sociology, political science and applied quantitative science, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. Her primary focus has been to increase civic engagement for underserved and underrepresented young people in Arizona, specifically in the areas of voting and political engagement.

As a Goodman Fellow, she has played a key role in developing a coalition of student government officers and leaders of a wide range of student civic and advocacy-oriented clubs and organizations, according to the statement.

Natarajan said she and other Goodman Fellows devoted significant time to registering voters and engaging citizens through a number of additional projects, including holding voter education workshops and compiling information for a ballot guide for the ASU community that is due out in early October.

“I learned that each vote matters, especially in Arizona as a swing state,” Natarajan said.

Alberto Olivas, founding executive director of the Pastor Center, said he rarely has had the opportunity in his nearly 20 years in civic education to work with such a selfless, community-minded student as Natarajan.

“In just a few short years, she has driven an aggressive voter education campaign that has revolutionized student civic participation not just for ASU, but for the benefit of other colleges and universities, and K–12 schools as well,” Olivas said. “Our student voter registration and turnout rates have increased dramatically in the past few elections, and I am sure this is in no small part due to her efforts.”

This is only the second year of the Lewis Award, given in each of the 50 states and sponsored by the National Association of Secretaries of State. It honors Lewis, a longtime U.S. representative from Georgia, who championed civil rights for decades. He served in the House of Representatives from 1987 until his death in 2020.

Lewis was one of the main organizers of the 1963 March on Washington that featured the “I Have A Dream” speech by civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as remarks by Lewis himself calling for civil rights legislation.

Natarajan said Lewis’ name on the award has particular meaning for her, as she had read about his career and his battle for civil and voting rights.

“It’s an honor that this award is named for someone who had gone through so many challenges and obstacles to make sure we have the right to vote without regard to race, religion, sexuality,” she said. “He and previous generations really paved a path for us. Today we’re making sure that voters’ voices are being heard.”

The first Arizona award in 2021 also went to an ASU student, Ayesha Ahsan, who at the time she received the award was also a Goodman Fellow.

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